Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Easing The Workload

One of the biggest things to come out of Yankee Camp thus far is that the team is putting an emphasis on reducing the workload of their top four starters early this spring. This is a good thing. I've already talked about the effects that World Series runs have had on pitchers and rotations in recent years. In addition, Sabathia and Burnett are both coming off career highs in innings pitched (which for Sabathia is no small feat), Pettitte is 37 and coming off of his fifth consecutive season of 200+ innings pitched including postseason, and Vazquez is coming off his highest innings total since 2003.

All of this should and is lending itself to the Yankees easing these pitchers into the spring and being stricter schedules than usual. Fantastic. Particularly for Joe Girardi, for whom a major weakness his first two seasons was probably leaning on guys too much and playing them too much. I'm not railing on Girardi here. I questioned a lot of his tactics early, and rightfully so, he showed some major deficiencies mixed in with some promise in year one. But he's showed a willingness to work at it and get better and in general has just gotten more comfortable. That much was obvious last year. He's quickly turned into a very good manager with a chance to become excellent very quickly. The progress from year one to last year was incredible. And I think that is true of this entire coaching staff. Pena, Eiland, Long, Thompson, and Kelleher have all shown themselves to be hard workers that want to get better and be the best. The staff as a whole has really come together and is rising to an elite level, which is great to see.

It can't stop there, especially for Girardi who is the primary decision maker. The fact remains that Sabathia threw 123 pitches on Opening Day in Yankee Stadium last year. Not in a complete game. In 5.2 innings. This is unacceptable on every level. A few games into the season with a guy that is that critical to everything you are trying to do that season, you just can't do things like that.

The hope is that Girardi has learned from that, or even if he hasn't, just changed in that regard. Because this year, with the workloads not just Sabathia but all of his pitchers are coming off of, with one month less of rest, it is absolutely critical that these guys are handled with immense care.

With that in mind, the fact that Girardi and Eiland have devised a plan this spring that they feel protects them a bit is a massive step. This is not at all surprising, because again this coaching staff is continually proving itself to be one that wants to constantly improve and be on the cutting edge of everything and anything, which I absolutely love. I just think they need to take it a step further than just the spring. For all I know, that is their plan. Since I don't know, I will just say that I don't think once the regular season hits the gloves should come off like they did last year.

The Yankees have a chance to have a great rotation, one of the best if not the best in baseball. They won't be able to do that if they aren't healthy. They have a great offense. They have a great bullpen. There shouldn't be a whole lot of risk in easing these guys into the season with 6-7 inning and/or approximately 100 pitch starts. I'm not talking about doing this until the middle of May. I'm talking about the first few weeks. Just shave a little bit off the beginning of the season. Then, where it permits like in blowouts, limit their workload a bit more there. Things like that. None of this will guarantee anything. They could take these measures and guys could still get hurt or be ineffective. They could take no measures and everyone could stay healthy and effective. I just think this is the best approach to take for both the players and the team, and I'm glad the Yankees seem to agree right from the start.


Ross Kaplan said...

Clearly the health of the pitchers is going to the best indicator of how this team is going to do this year. We dodged a bullet last year as none of the top 3 starters spent a significant amount of time on the DL, but the chances of history repeating itself is very unlikely with Burnett and Pettitte being the most likely candidates to spend time on the DL.

As Pat said, it's next to impossible to totally prevent injuries, but Girardi can take steps to contain the injuries. It's inevitable that over the course of the season at least one of the starters will end up on the DL, but the key is to make sure that no more than one starter is on the DL at a time. In seasons past this team fell apart when they had to pitch guys like Chacon, Small and an almost 40 yo Leiter back to back to back. Moral of the story, don't coddle your starters, but don't let the others try to make up the work lost from a fallen comrade.

the gm at work said...

In this regard, Alfredo Aceves and either Hughes or Joba perhaps as a long guy instead of blowing guys away in the eigthth can be assets.

Patrick said...

gm - it really gets even easier than that for the yankees. they are loaded with potential long-relievers (park, gaudin, mitre) to the point where they can use joba/hughes to set-up rivera, aceves to be a swing guy that can go long or short depending on the situation, and have long guys available at the same time. now i understand what you're saying here is that you want guys better than park/gaudin/mitre assuming these innings, and in that case i think you can deploy aceves in that role in front of robertson/marte in front of joba/hughes and rivera. writing all of this reminds me of a legitimate question i've been thinking a lot about lately: do the yankees, for all of their pitching depth, have enough of what are usually the easiest types to come by - short relievers?

Patrick said...

ross - you've been championing health as the key this winter, and you are absolutely correct. however, out of curiosity, do you mind if i ask what put you onto this kick this particular winter?

the gm at work said...

Pat, I don't think Ross needs to answer this question, because it's obvious: It's because the Yankees won the freaking World Series because they didn't have any Chacon starts. Might be a good Friday topic for us to just put together a database of crappy starters who have had to fill in starts for our two teams.

Good point on the short reliever thing. They have a lot of long/former starter guys. Perhaps the question regarding Joba and Hughes is not who should be starting, but if one of them should assume the 8th inning role permanently.

Patrick said...

gm -

first, even when things are obvious with ross, i like to know where he's coming from. the things that trigger his thought processes can be very interesting to hear about, and are often different than what we might typically think of. he operates in unique ways.

second, i doubt your answer is precisely the answer. yes, the yankees experienced great health from what ended up being their top 3 starters. but they dealt with a number of dramatically ineffective starts from their #2 starter (wang), the starters who replaced him in the 5th spot when he went down and everybody else in the rotation moved up a spot (i think i read somewhere that the yankees' 5th starter collection had an ERA north of 7 for the season), and two months of an ineffective 4th starter in joba. they won the world series, but they did it despite a lot of starts from fringe guys.

third, why are we using "chacon stars" as a name for these kind of starts?! chacon came in and went 7-3 with a 2.85 with the yankees in his first partial season. i wish i could get guys filling in to give that type of performance. no doubt, he tanked the following season with the yankees before being traded, but he did a great job in 2005 and was a big reason why they made the playoffs.

Anonymous said...

What triggered ross's thought process was most likely something to do with playing MLB 2005 on his laptop computer.

Also don't expect a response. Ross is a hit and run blogger.

Ross Kaplan said...

Well Pat I am in no means a professional sports blogger like yourself, but I think I know better than to alienate one of the 3 people who consistently read and comment on your blog.

To clarify my original comment, the consequence that injuries to starting pitchers have on a baseball season is an obvious one, but next to impossible to prevent against. Anyone who has studied Dusty Baker's career in Chicago knows to not overpitch young pitchers or else they will not reach their potential or spend much of their careers on the DL. But beyond limiting innings and limiting pitch counts there is not much a manager can do to prevent injuries to pitchers. As I said, the key is to not prevent injuries which is impossible, but to limit them. One idea would be try a 6 man rotation as teams reach the dog days of summer, I'm sure there are other good ones too.

I hope my comments satisfy all of you because I just don't know what I would do myself if my comments did not reach the high quality of comments that all of you have come to expect from this blog.

Patrick said...

ross -

first, who am i trying to alienate?

second, your second paragraph is absolutely correct. but you are just expanding upon the original point you made, which is totally valid. i am in 100% agreement with you. what i'm wondering is why is it that this particular winter ross kaplan is on the need for health train?

third, i was going to say that i didn't understand your final paragraph, but after reading it twice more i think i get what you're getting at. you're saying we need your comments to stay at a high level or else we are disappointed. that is definitely accurate.

jason said...

stop trying to alienate me pat